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Israeli coalition talks stumble again

What happened: Israel’s political impasse shows no sign of a solution ahead of the 11 December deadline for the dissolution of the Knesset, with Likud and Blue and White yesterday exchanging recriminations about who was to blame.

  • The major stumbling blocks remain the same: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that he serve first in any premiership rotation agreement, as well as Likud’s demand that its right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies be part of any national unity government.
  • Blue and White rejected the idea of Netanyahu remaining Prime Minister, even for six months, given his recent indictments on corruption charges. Blue and White argue that party leader Benny Gantz should serve as Prime Minister for the first two years, with Netanyahu rotating in for the last two years, contingent on his criminal cases being resolved.
  • Netanyahu has argued that he should remain Prime Minister in order to take advantage of “historic opportunities,” primarily annexation of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank and signing a mutual defence pact with the US.
  • Blue and White last night rejected the idea of a defence pact with the US, arguing that for decades Israeli security officials opposed such a move because it could limit Israeli military action.

Context: Amidst the political wrangling, legal officials submitted a formal letter of indictment to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, signalling the start of a 30-day period during which Benjamin Netanyahu can request parliamentary immunity from the Knesset.

  • The Knesset’s legal advisor said there was no obstacle to convening the Knesset House Committee to deliberate on the matter, although what happens if the Knesset disperses prior to the full 30-day period elapsing is open to legal interpretation.
  • The Yisrael Beitenu party said it would not support granting the Prime Minister parliamentary immunity – ruling out Netanyahu winning a majority for such a move. Netanyahu has in the past said he would not seek immunity for his legal troubles.
  • The full indictment letter listed 333 witnesses against Netanyahu in his three corruption cases, including fellow politicians, security officials, and various foreign billionaires including Arnon Milchan, James Packer, Larry Ellison and Sheldon Adelson. Netanyahu used the occasion to once again blast legal authorities, arguing that any case dependent on so many witnesses was by definition weak.

Looking ahead: A senior Blue and White figure said today that another election  – the country’s third in a year – was looking increasingly likely.

  • The Central Elections Committee ruled yesterday that if the Knesset is dissolved next week, the earliest date the repeat poll could be held is on 25 February 2020.
  • The Likud Central Committee is due to meet tomorrow for a crucial session on whether a party leadership primary will be held ahead of any general election. A motion to that effect has yet to be officially put on the agenda.
  • Supporters of Netanyahu rival Gideon Saar, who first raised the demand, have threatened to boycott the meeting if no vote on a leadership primary takes place.